Dubious portmanteaus

[At the end of this posting, there will be an invitation to nominate further examples. Wait for it.]

Three portmanteau words that I came across recently that struck me as unsatisfactory: Innovatrium, womance, twunk.

1. Innovatrium. Mae Sander complained about this one in e-mail on July 14, calling it “grating” and “annoying”. The word refers to an institution on the University of Michigan campus, with a second scheduled to be opened in Atlanta this winter. From the website:

Innovatrium (Innovate + Atrium) Institute of Innovation is a place where growth takes center place. The purpose of Innovatrium is to help organizations find their “innovativeness” and jumpstart their growth engine. As such, the Innovatrium is especially designed to host innovation and growth related workshops and programs.
However, much more than a place, the Innovatrium embodies the point of view that innovation happens at the edges of disciplines and at the boundaries of organizations. It is a community that connects public and private organizations and becomes a mechanism to bring the best experts, practitioner, university professors and students together to solve real world problems. It is an interdisciplinary collaboration at its best and the future of business education.

What atrium is doing in this innovation is unclear. Forum or agora would have made more sense, but neither combines naturally with innovate, so the namers seem to have fixed on atrium as a word vaguely in the same semantic sphere that does combine with innovate easily. Of course, they could just not have insisted on a portmanteau, fashionable though portmanteaus are.

2. womance. This one came to me in TV Guide early this month, in an article by David Hochman on the tv series Rizzoli & Isles, about two women (a homicide detective and a medical examiner) who are co-workers and BFFs:

Sexier than Cagney and Lacey, brainier than Laverne and Shirley and way better at tracking down serial killers than the women of The View, Rizzoli and Isles are TV’s favorite gal pals of the moment. The show’s ratings are through the roof. Bloggers obsess over the characters’ “secret” love lives.

The piece is entitled “Rizzoli & Isles: True Womance”. That’s womance (woman + romance), on the model of bromance (see “Manecdotes and brobituaries”, here), but pronounced like romance in Elmer Fuddese (so that the woman element is concealed in pronunciation, though it’s visible in the spelling). The pronunciation is the sticking point for me; it sounds so silly.

But the word does useful work, describing the “gal pal”, “girlfriend”, or “BFF” relationship. As a blogger tells it:

So I’m totally drooling over Spock with a pal the other day. There’s a pause and he says: “That’s the ultimate bromance, man.” And I open my mouth to agree when something hits me: a bromance? Like a brother-romance? The pinnacle of male homosocial relationships? That which is copiously referenced in How I Met Your Mother? Enough with the rhetorical questions already, I hear you say. A bromance is, to the uninitiated, the ultimate in man bonding. It is the closest that straight men will ever come to in their dealings with other men. It is the equivalent of a straight-male marriage, the BFF-ship to end all BFF-ships. And the examples abound: JD and Turk (Scrubs), Kirk and Spock (Star Trek), Starsky and Hutch (duh), Harry and Ron (Harry Potter), hell even Jerry and George (Seinfeld). But hang on, a bromance is a term confined to brothers, a synonym for the universal fraternity house to which all men magically belong. It’s exclusively a male rapport.

Am I missing something here?

What about womance? Females share the same kind of bond, the same Three Musketeers code of friendship and the same sense of camaraderie that men do. Personal example: my two fellow bloggers and superheroines extraordinaire, Ab and Org. When we hang (and I’m mocked for this seemingly obsolete turn of phrase), I’ve always gotten the feeling that anything I said or did would be tolerated, protected, ridiculed to my face but never before anyone else and would actually be paid attention to with a deep mix of affection, love and the willingness to look past my many flaws. Isn’t that what a bromance is? I can even crack completely inappropriate, ribald girl jokes with my coterie, rounded up by at least four other equally awesome ladies, exchange borderline romantic rejoinders and have everything accepted without excuses and apologies. There are of course traits absent in male friendships which exist in female ones, not to mention a special type of humour that women can share only with other women. I cannot be the only girl who feels this way with her gang. All women must surely respond the same way to their best friends, their femily.

(Bonus portmanteau: femily.)

3. twunk. This one I came across in writing on my X blog (here) about pornstar Tommy Defendi (illustrations on that blog). On the Queer Porn Nation site:

Since his porn debut at CollegeDudes247 in 2008, Tommy Defendi has drastically evolved from a twink to a twunk, which I blogged about here, and now a hairy hunk qualifying him to be a Raging Stallion man.

That’s twink + hunk. The earlier QPN piece:

There’s a new breed of guys on the block called twunks, they’re guys typically around 20 years old with some muscles on their slim builds and possibly light body hair boosting their masculine factor. Case in point: Tommy Defendi and Jason Pitt both of whom I have the hots for recently.

(The writer seems to be comma-averse. Or maybe commaverse.)

I’m not sure how useful twunk is; as I see it, Defendi worked out, developed more muscles, and added some stubble, moving quickly from twink to hunk. Twunk is just wordplay for the sake of wordplay — and I find it phonologically unsatisfying, since it sounds like trunk in Fuddese and suggests clunk, lunk, funk, drunk, etc. as easily as hunk.

4. Nominate your own. You’re invited to suggest (in comments to this posting) portmanteaus you find dubious, on the grounds of sound, sense, or usefulness. Add a comment explaining your judgment (as I’ve done above).

Two cautions:

One, lots of people just hate innovative portmanteaus in general. I don’t want to collect blanket peeves; I’m after specific dubious examples.

Two, people sometimes object to a portmanteau because they object to one of its parts — because that part is slangy, jargonish, fashionable in certain (disfavored) social groups, or whatever. For instance, some people object to bromance because they object to bro. But in that case the fault (if there is one) lies in the part rather than in the combination. So: take the parts as given (along with their social values) and judge the portmanteau as a whole, on its own terms.

11 Responses to “Dubious portmanteaus”

  1. Barry Shein Says:

    ideotrophy: (ideo- as in idea or image, trophy as in grow or nourish) — Building organizations, including businesses, around novel and often difficult (at first) to understand ideas and innovations, particularly in technology or science.

    I came up with it in a challenge from Wong Meng Weng (serial internet entrepeneur) to come up with a better word for entrepeneurship particularly in the technology arena where the challenge is to take a new, often abstract, technology or way of looking at a technology and turn it into a thriving enterprise.

  2. Barry Shein Says:

    Well, I guess I just jumped in, let’s leave “dubious” as a reach for self-effacement.

    The example you found is ideAtrophy (vs. ideOtrophy), very similar I suppose, both the word and the concept. IdeAtrophy makes me think of “atrophy”, a negative association, so perhaps significant.

  3. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    […] Zwicky explores boldly going, discusses a few unsatisfactory portmanteaus, and how even euphemistic exclamations can be offensive to some.  The Virtual Linguist took a look […]

  4. Another dubious portmanteau « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] add to the previous crop of dubious portmanteaus, I offer blogumn ‘blog column’ (suggested by Victor Steinbok). […]

  5. Sandwich portmanteaus: lepicdary « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I’m not sure I’d have understood LEPICDARY right off the bat; it strikes me as a dubious portmanteau, along the lines of Innovatrium, womance, and twunk as discussed here. […]

  6. Mj Says:

    I know this is an older article but I was just thinking today how much I hate portmanteaus. I hate ‘fandom’ and ‘cosplay’. I also hate the word ‘kidlet’, although I’m not entirely certain that it is a genuine portmanteau. I asked some friends who are parents and they seemed to think it is a combination of kid and piglet.

  7. Generalized word rage « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] new comment on “Dubious portmanteaus” (from last July): I know this is an older article but I was just thinking today how much I hate portmanteaus. I […]

  8. More dubious portmanteaus « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] that appear to be meant to be useful, but are awkward and unlikely to succeed: for instance the dubious portmanteaus Innovatrium, womance (and femily), and twunk. Two more have recently been logged on ADS-L: […]

  9. Today’s useless portmanteau « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] that appear to be meant to be useful, but are awkward and unlikely to succeed: for instance the dubious portmanteaus Innovatrium, womance (and femily), and twunk. Two more have recently been logged on ADS-L: […]

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